Friday, January 08, 2010

California Water Politics: Too much, too quickly

Coming in from NM several things really stand out in regards to the California water issues. One thing is the inordinate role of the state legislature in water management. Another is the reliance on diversions at every turn as the first option in allocating water to regions and urban areas. I have briefly seen the CA state water planning process, but really consider the state process to be way too removed from the regional realities to make it meaningful. Water politics in this state remain a conflict between urban users, environmental advocates and rural users. Distinctions are very sharp between users here and there are few concessions on any side in regards to their respective narratives.

In this context, I would like to grasp how political strategy and legislative actions develop in the state particularly as they impact on various users. California has lobby groups for everything and there appears to be few structural mechanisms to provide adaptive governance in decision-making. Within the Green Party I have worked to begin to address the water issue through regional planning processes that is growing in its application and working to increase our political presence in the debates. There appears, at least on the surface, to be fundamental flaws in the structure of CA state water management and administration (and there always has been). Add to this, the issue of antiquated rural-based water law is an aspect that haunts all Western states.

The fundamental flaw appears to be the lack of a common vision concerning the context of economic growth and development that inherently produces public relation wars, rather than coordinated management and administration. Arnold says that "We can have it all." when it comes to water supplies for urban, agricultural and environmental uses and then pushes through a bill that prioritizes agricultural use to the detriment of the Delta users.

It was relatively easy in NM to unite with rural and ag users in the Middle Rio Grande because all stakeholders were united about the regional priority of agricultural use. For one thing ag is on a much smaller scale. For another there is an active movement among them against sprawl and transfer of land use to housing and development. These folks actively opposed new power plants and proposed highway infrastructure to facilitate development. Greens have supported these efforts. Our focus on high volumne users were directed more at chip manufacturers and national defense labs. I have talked with a few Delta folks on the situation there and most of the active community forces appeared to feel that they are left with few options in addressing the planned peripheral canal diversion. They remind me of many folks in NM but lack a substantive political base that is able to translate their concerns into effective political action.

It appears that while in most states change takes place much too slowly, but California has a habit of changing much too rapidly when it comes to water. There appears to be so many ideas out there that are implemented so quickly that there is little time to establish mechanisms that can provide sound science in regards to their impact and coordinated efforts in management and administration. Without improved monitoring and measurement included in changes no one can really accurately demonstrate how to prioritize allocations or mitigate for the consequences of such decisions. While a bill is introduced in the state legislature to make water a human right, there is no bill that begins to address the myriad of federal, state and local agencies with overlapping authorities. This was also the case in NM.

Green Party candidates need to apply our holistic perspective for regional planning to their own campaigns. Recruitment of experienced water advocates need to expand the visibility of the water issue as a priority of the Green Party of California. We can engage in a campaign against the water bond. We need to establish sound processes for decision-making on water and get it out of the State Legislature. Sustainability is a goal that becomes real only only through the actions by users at the regional level.

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